Close-up under the hood of jumper cables attached to a car battery

How to Buy a Car Battery

Your car’s battery is an integral part of your vehicle’s electrical system. When it fails, you’re not going anywhere. The time to consider your next battery purchase is before you need one, as batteries sometimes fail with little warning.

Here’s how to buy a car battery and what you need to know about getting the right one for your vehicle.

Car Battery Basics

1. Your car’s battery is typically located under the hood, but not always. In some vehicles, the battery is in the trunk, under a rear seat or in another interior compartment. If you’re not sure where your battery is located, your owner’s manual will direct you.

Car battery2. Car battery sizes are not universal. Batteries vary in size, depending on the vehicle. The larger or more powerful the vehicle, the bigger the battery. All car batteries supply 12-volt power, but the amount of amperage and the battery’s size differ. Automotive manufacturers choose batteries based on particular model and engine types. Even within the same model range, manufacturers might offer different batteries if there are multiple engine choices.

3. Consider the CCA rating. Besides size and location, a battery’s cold cranking amps (CCA) rating may be important, especially if you live in a cold climate. The CCA rating determines a battery’s starting ability in cold weather, as it represents the number of amps a 12-volt battery may deliver at zero degrees Fahrenheit for 30 seconds while holding a voltage of at least 7.2 volts. The higher the CCA rating, the greater the starting power of the battery.

4. Buy now, install later. It’s a good idea to buy a new car battery before your current one fails. Car batteries have a shelf life, which is typically listed with an expiration date some three to six years out. If you purchase a new battery now intending to use it within a few months, it’s still considered new for up to six months. Simply store it in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to install it. Purchasing a car battery ahead of time may prove advantageous, especially when a rebate promotion or other special deal is offered. Your retailer will likely accept your old battery once you’ve completed the swap. Many communities also accept batteries through local recycling programs.

When to Replace a Car Battery

Expect to replace your car’s battery every three to four years or sooner if you live in a hot climate. Signs that your car battery is in trouble include dimming headlights, the engine has trouble starting or the vehicle backfires.

Instead of being surprised when a car battery fails, occasionally test its strength using a multimeter to determine its effectiveness. Fully charged batteries should measure 12.6 volts and above or 13.7 to 14.7 volts with the engine running. Any readout under 12.6 volts means it’s time to replace the car battery.

To make your battery last as long as possible, keep the battery terminals clean and free of gunk buildup, and ensure that all connections are secure.

Check out all of the batteries available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how to buy a car battery, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

about author

Matthew C. Keegan

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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